Philosophical Pathologies II

I grant that there are two historical tasks to philosophy, one socratic and outward looking, testing ideas within the community, and a second turned inward, philosophers addressing one another on recondite questions that the community will not understood or will be deeply suspicious of.

I further acknowledge that both tasks are legitimate; that there is beautiful and important work to be done in the latter sphere; and that the two domains are often intimately intertwined.

but this is all (brief) preamble to my main point, which is a claim about an ongoing institutional pathology.

To successfully focus solely on the second task requires rare skills. (The other is the easier, tho far from easy task.) Rare skills that few possess.

Thus many, having the will for philosophy, take on the first task. But lacking the talent, they turn into nook dwellers, a position only possible through the 20th C disciplining of philosophy.

I was at UTEP recently — there to talk to scientists, of course — and talked with a couple of the philosophers while there. One claimed that the 20th century is the greatest of all philosophical centuries: there has never been such careful and profound work.

Not by my lights. Think 1788. Après moi, le déluge.

We suffer from too many philosophers.

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One Response to Philosophical Pathologies II

  1. Keith Brown says:

    I am a tad confused. Let me see if I can clarify for myself what you are saying.

    There are two tasks for “philosophy”:

    1. Socratic and “outward” turned which engage the community-at-large of all citizens in the polis.
    2. Professional and “inward” turned which engage only among other professionals about issues that would seem pointless, silly, or beyond the grasp of the community-at-large.

    You then rightly claim that both are important and often overlap.

    Where I get confused is when you claim that the “first task” (Socratic) is taken on by those with a “will for philosophy” but not a talent for it so they end up being nook dwellers. Did you mean the second task? I am not sure how anyone who is engaging the community at large on philosophizing as a way of life can become a nook dweller. Unless you are describing how cynics and stoics literally dwelled in nooks. It confounds me because despite their dwelling in nooks, they hardly absenced themselves from the community. The nooks were out in the open.

    So did you mean that those who become quasi-hermits following the second task are nook-dwellers? I mean, inhabiting a footnote of Heidegger’s Being & Time or of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit would certainly seem to be more what you are describing.

    Of course, I disagree with your characterization of the Socratic. I don’t really see very much of that around despite you calling it fairly common. I do see a lot of folks who perform a kind of late Stoical task of dealing primarily with policy makers and others within the socio-political spheres of government & business. Is this what you mean by nook dwelling? Because I would call that setting up shop in a nook that is adjacent to the power structures of the Schools.

    I don’t see a lot of people who actually go about in the everyday marketplace personally engaging regular citizens on their assumptions and encouraging them to seek the good life. I suppose like Jesus or Buddha, it is the fate of a paradigmatic individual like Socrates to always be associated with folks who are in fact not following the path he may have suggested.

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